In Station Square Park, multi-colored orbs could be seen swaying in the breeze. These lanterns traveled half-way around the world from Nagano for the occasion, and in exchange, Clearwater sent 22 lanterns for Japan’s festival.
People dressed in kimonos could be seen walking to and fro, and a Niten Ryu (a classical Japanese martial arts style) demonstration was presented. The park was so crowded it was almost hard to get to the booths exhibiting different aspects of Japanese culture, like brush painting, origami or anime.
Artist Yoko Nogami, a Japanese woman who now lives in Tampa Bay, erected an installation piece titled “Clouds.” Two screens projecting the same cloud images, one representing Clearwater and the other representing Nagano, played different sounds which beautifully illustrated how we are two different cultures under the same sky.
There was also a table where children made lanterns. White paper bags were decorated with messages promoting cultural harmony, like, “Clearwater (hearts) Japan.” The lanterns, once decorated, were set aside and then lit during the evening ceremony.
The “sister city” program was started in 1956 by President Eisenhower to promote cultural exchange and awareness, and this year marks the 50th year of Clearwater’s involvement in the program. Some of the advantages are economic and community development, tourism and trade development as well as personal friendships. Because of the sister cities program, Clearwater had a “Pavilion in the Sun” during the 1998 Winter Olympics, held in Nagano. As part of an exchange program between the sister cities, middle school and high school students from Clearwater may be sent to Nagano to live for a year and experience Japanese culture first-hand.
The Sister Cities International theme is “bringing the world together…one friendship at a time.”